The Abundance of Minimalism

“Very little is needed to make life happy.”

- Marcus Aurelius

According to the American Psychological Association, the well-being of Americans’ has steadily declined since the 1950’s, despite our increase in consumption of material goods. David G. Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, writes “Today’s young adults have grown up with more affluence, slightly less happiness, and much greater risk of depression.” So what is consumerism? Consumerism is a belief system that promotes the purchase of material goods as a direct path toward fulfillment. Consumerism suggests that, for any feeling of internal lack, there is an antidote with a price tag – a magic bullet that can be found at any mall kiosk or department store. 


With online shopping at our fingertips, according to the ideals of consumerism, we are all just mouse-clicks away from feeling better. If consuming goods ferries us to the Promised Land, then a few bucks doesn’t sound like a high price.  But research shows (with the exception of a fleeting initial dose of “feel good” dopamine upon purchasing goods) that buying more actually brings us less life satisfaction.


Psychologist Tim Kasser writes extensively about how America's culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. He warns against buying into insidious marketing messages that have been on the rise since the Golden Age of Advertising.  In The High Price of Materialism, a video by the Center for a New American Dream, Kasser explains how 150 billion advertising dollars are now spent annually to ensnare consumers into thinking that more is more.  But, research shows that those who value materialistic aspirations have less happiness and greater insecurity. 

He further argues that those who fall prey to consumerism are not only more devoid of positive emotion, but also more narcissistic and less inclined toward pro-social values like cooperation and helping others.  Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are all more common to those who value materialism. Turns out the high price tag on materialism is not just in dollars and cents but in positive emotion, connection to others, and self-esteem.


It’s no wonder that spiritual leaders and philosophers have suggested that we have an inability to reach enlightenment unless our ties to the material world are cut. The prophet Mohammed said, “Riches are not from an abundance of worldly goods but from a contented mind.” Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu taught that one of “Life’s greatest treasures is simplicity.” Buddha, rock star of simplicity, said that “Joy comes not through possession or ownership but through a wise and loving heart.”

We all need stuff to sustain our lives, and a certain number of creature comforts are part and parcel of living in a modern world.  I believe that Kasser is talking about excess spending, too much stuff, and what’s wholly unnecessary. Alleviating our lives from material excess may be one of the greatest steps toward spiritual and creative abundance. Bearing this new information in mind, I’m not promising that the sum of my possessions will dwindle down to a hot plate and an air mattress, but I am committing to idea that less is more. If unhooking from the pull of consumerism creates a better me, a happier more fulfilled me – then you can count me in. 

Mary Delaney is a licensed psychotherapist.  Her areas of interest include Reclaiming Lost Emotions, Expressive Arts Therapy, Trauma, Relationships, Finding True Purpose, Attachment, and the Creative Personality. For more information visit